ECE Diamonds

Jan Taouma – a champion for Pacific children

b. 1948
Life member 2012

For more than 40 years, Jan Tauoma has championed early childhood education for Pacific children and run the A’oga Fa’a Samoa, the first Samoan early childhood centre.

Raised in early 1950s Dunedin, where she rode her tricycle unaccompanied to kindergarten, Jan and husband Pita raised their own young children in Samoa. Both were primary school teachers, and Pita was also involved with an early childhood education association in Samoa.

Their experience in Samoa was the foundation of a lifetime vocation for Jan. When Jan returned to New Zealand in 1979 with her husband and five children, the couple were approached to help set up a Samoan language early childhood centre. Jan recalls:

“The idea started mostly with the grandparents who had brought their children from Samoa. They were wanting to fit in, so their children had learnt English. Now the grandchildren were coming, and they realised that their identity, language, and culture was being lost.

“I had a baby who was about 18 months old, so I was keen that this child had the same language opportunities as my other children in Samoa. I got involved and I’ve been here ever since. I never thought it was going to be my vocation in life!”

A’oga Fa’a Samoa began meeting in people’s homes until a space became available at Pacific Island Resource Centre in Herne Bay. Government funding for early childhood services was restricted to those with trained staff. In 1986 Jan connected with the New Zealand Childcare Association (now Te Rito Maioha) and found support from the women in the Auckland branch.

With support from Pacific Women’s Council, the Pacific Islands Development Board and the Department of Education, the Association set up a Pacific pathway in its certificate course. The training was free, and the Association employed specialist tutors. Since then, all A’oga Fa’a Samoa’s staff have trained with the Association. 

In 1989, A’oga Fa’a Samoa connected with Richmond Road Primary School’s new Samoan language unit and in 1990, because the first Pacific centre in the country to get a license.

As the Association moved toward biculturalism, Jan was nominated to represent Pacific interests on the Council. She became involved in the Association’s national advocacy work, “fully behind the Council’s bicultural aspirations” but also a voice for Pasifika children and their fanau. 

Advocacy was a driver for Jan and her husband—ensuring that Pasifika families were well represented at higher level decisions. The Ministry of Education contracted Jan to support Pasifika centres having difficulties. Jan played a key role developing the Association’s Pasifika Diploma in Teaching (ECE).

A highlight for Jan and team at the A’oga Fa’a Samoa was its selection in 2003 as a Centre of Innovation, the beginning of a three-year research journey within their bilingual setting.

In 2014 Jan received a Queen’s Service Medal for her commitment to Pacific children. She was made a life member in 2012. Today, the A’oga Fa’a Samoa that spurred this lifetime commitment to early childhood education, continues to service its community.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Jan's full story and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa